12 Tricks to Keep Restaurant Customers Happy During Long-Line Season
“At first I was annoyed that even though I made reservations, I had to wait 30 minutes to be seated. But because they were so friendly, I couldn’t get mad. They took our bags and coats, and we ordered drinks while we waited to be seated.”
Those are the words of a Yelp reviewer who recently rated a swanky restaurant in downtown Boston; a busy restaurant notorious for long meals and necessary reservations.
Certainly you’ve heard the phrase, “worth the wait”. When referring restaurants, it’s the best compliment you can hope for when you know that standing in line is an issue. During the holiday season and other special occasions, wait times can become part of your reputation.
Here are twelve tips for ensuring that reputation is positive:
Accept them: Many small restaurants shy away from taking reservations because cancellations put a damper on your nightly traffic. However, you may be turning away customers who know that a wait is imminent, especially on cold or rainy days.
Use a system: To reduce cancellations, use a system like OpenTable, which rewards diners for keeping their reservations. OpenTable’s no-show rate is around 5%, which is much lower than the standard. The more you know about whether your guests are showing up, the less trouble you’ll have accepting walk-in guests.
Take a credit card number: To reduce no-shows further, log a credit card number for reservations and charge a cancellation fee for anyone who doesn’t show up.
Be honest with customers
Give them an accurate wait time: If the wait is going to be an hour, don’t tell them thirty minutes. When the line is long, surprise them with a shorter wait, not a longer one.
Recommend reservations: If you’re telling customers that the wait is over an hour, also tell them how easy it is to make online reservations for later in the night, or the next day.
Double-check their interest: Part of the reason for long estimated wait times is because guests say they’ll wait, and ultimately end up taking off when they get too hungry. Judge their reactions to the wait time and double-check to make sure they’ll be waiting for a table before increasing the wait time for everyone else.
Keep them occupied
Tell them where to shop local: Are you in a neighborhood with shops? While offering their estimated wait time, give them some ideas for things to do in the immediate neighborhood.
Take their phone number: If you’re sending guests away to keep them busy, take their phone number so that your hostess can call them personally when a table is read. This will also decrease the chance of no-shows.
Give them something to do: Depending on your theme, you might add TV’s to the waiting area, give kids crayons and coloring books, or increase the amount of seating. Always have copies of your menu, so that they can start perusing.
Keep them calm and happy
Make room: If you’re known for long waits, then a proper waiting room, or at least outdoor heat lamps should be added to your budget for the following year. Squashing everyone into a tiny corridor won’t just make people uncomfortable, it’ll scare away others who might have been willing to wait.
Acknowledge them: Nothing is more frustrating than trying muscle your way through a line to find out how long the wait is. When guests arrive, usher them to the front, or train your host to greet them at the door.
Pass out the amuse bouche: They’re hungry…starving, even. A little snack for the brave who wait an hour or more is a nice surprise that they’ll be sure to tell their friends.
Finally, make your meal “worth the wait”. All of your line-serving accompaniments won’t help customer satisfaction if the meal and service doesn’t fit the bill!